Well, after much fanfare and suspense, the supposedly revolutionary Martin jetpack was unveiled in front of a large and curious crowd at AirVenture Oshkosh on Tuesday. After watching the videos and reading the details, I have to say I’m underwhelmed. Yes, it flew, but only a few feet off the ground, and it appeared to require two ground handlers to help keep it steady, or at least for safety reasons, to keep it from wondering into the crowd. As I suspected, there isn’t any radical breakthrough in aerospace technology in this VTOL (Vertical Take Off & Landing) device. (I’m going to use the generic VTOL because many people will argue what the term “jetpack” really means.) It appears to be similar to the SoloTrek VTOL device that was attempted several years ago by a small company in California, now known as Trek Aerospace. The SoloTrek even had government backing from NASA and the U.S. Army, but after several years of development, never flew further than a few feet off the ground, and even at that, was usually tethered to a crane. Like the SoloTrek, the Martin jetpack uses a conventional internal combustion engine driving two small rotating blades, or ducted fans, to provide lift. As I speculated, this VTOL is also not “backpack” size, and weighs almost 250 pounds. It is basically built around a stand or platform that you strap into before you can fly it. Not exactly the comic book fantasy of popping a jetpack out of the trunk of your car, strapping it to your back, and zooming into the sky. At a projected price of 100K, it also seems a little excessive for it’svery limited performance. I could buy a nice, practical light aircraftfor that amount of cash.
While I commend Martin for his skill and perseverance in pursing his dream of a practical jetpack, I just wish that companies like this would wait until they have a flying machine that is pretty much a final design before hyping it to the general public. I’ve seen too many companies promising the next great flying vehicle (Can you say Moller SkyCar?). They string folks along for years that it is “almost ready for production”, then fail to deliver, disappointing many people. You cry wolf too many times, and people won’t take you seriously anymore. (I admire the way the Wright brothers did it: they performed their research in private for years, and only revealed their aircraft to the world when they felt they had solved the problems of practical, controlled flight.) Unfortunately, I guess the cost to develop just about any type of air vehicle these days requires large amounts of cash. So companies will release preliminary details well before the vehicle design is finalized to attract investors and allow them to continue development. What you as an investor or potential owner have to do is really study the product and the company to determine if they will ever deliver what they promise.
One final note. After reading about my skepticism on his jetpack in a previous blog entry, Mr. Martin offered to let me fly his device. I have to say after what I have seen, I’ll pass on your offer, Mr. Martin. To paraphrase an old flying adage, don’tfly higher than you are willing to fall. Successfully flying it to much higher altitudes wouldn’t change my mind either, as it wouldexceed my personal comfort level for flying. (If you go to the Martinweb site, they touch on the subject of degree of risk people are willing to take.) Even with a ballisticparachute, I’m thinking there would be a part of the flight envelope close to theground where the chute could not be deployed quickly enough to stopyour fall before you hit the ground. I’ll let someone else be the test pilot on this one. I hate to disappoint the dreamers, but you’re still going to have to wait a long time for that comic book fantasy jetpack to arrive.